As a former executive of Turner Broadcasting (parent company of CNN), I am disappointed and concerned by last night’s Republican debate which you hosted at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. Furthermore, as a businessperson who has spent the last twenty years overseas, building media companies in complicated and heavily censored Asian countries, I worry about the devolution of our American media landscape.
We all know that journalism continues to transition as a result of rapidly changing media consumption habits — but presidential debates are a key component of the democratic process, and when the format of those debates is reduced to theater, everyone loses.
From Jake Tapper’s opening question of, basically, “How does each candidate feel about Donald Trump?” the tone of the debate was dialed to “Spectacle”.
In keeping with the race so far, policy issues were allowed to be reduced to mere soundbites.
A moderator’s role is to foster discourse by raising relevant topics, to make sure that the debaters are given equal time to comment and rebut, and to serve the audience and the public by doing so.
In the case of last night’s debate, it seemed as if the moderators were encouraging the candidates to launch and respond to personal attacks. There was little attention paid to much else. Not to mention the fact that during the debate the network chose not to superimpose the candidates’ names on screen as they were speaking, leaving the public to guess the identities of the non-celebrity candidates.
Unabashed bias? Censorship? Along with prompting the candidates to discuss their policy ideas, relevant work experience, and leadership skills, the public should also hold the media accountable for their coverage of the presidential race. Now more than ever.
Given the sheer number of candidates, the celebrity-driven climate in which we live today, the fragmented media environment, and the multitude of complex domestic and global issues that threaten our country, it is of paramount importance that news outlets who are selected to host debates do not pander to the lowest common denominator (i.e. ratings) and, rather, serve the public by pushing candidates to stay on topic.
Please take note.